Q: What can I do to fall asleep and stay asleep at night?

A: Do you ever find yourself not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep? Don’t worry, you are not alone. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, three out of 10 adults suffer from insomnia. For those of us who have this problem, it can be debilitating and affect our daily life. Fortunately, there are several ways to improve your sleep hygiene.

Sleep hygiene refers to actions that you can perform to ensure you are able to fall and stay asleep. Some of these include:

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends. This means go to bed and wake up around the same time every day.
  • Avoid caffeine after lunch time.
  • Avoid consuming alcohol before bed.
  • Avoid drinking water two hours before going to bed to reduce nighttime awakening.
  • Avoid prolonged use of light-emitting screens such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Exercise regularly for at least 20 minutes a day about four to five hours before your bedtime.
  • Try to avoid naps during the day.

Another aspect of sleep is called stimulus control. Stimulus control uses techniques to associate your bed only with sleep. These techniques include:

  • Avoid going to your bed until you feel sleepy and use your bed only for sleep.
  • Do not spend more than 20 minutes in bed awake. If you are awake for more than 20 minutes, leave your bedroom and engage in relaxing activities such as reading a book or listening to soothing music, and then return when you feel sleepy. If you return to bed and still cannot sleep after 20 minutes, repeat the process.

For many of us, it’s hard to fall asleep without watching a TV show while lying in bed. However, it’s very important for us to make an effort to avoid electronic devices before bedtime. Our circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle are controlled by light. When it is nighttime, our body will begin to normally release a hormone called melatonin, which is designed to help us sleep. When we watch TV or look at our smartphones, the light from these devices decreases the production of melatonin, making it harder for us to fall asleep.

Sleep is an essential part of our lives and has many restorative and healing functions. Therefore, it is important for us to be mindful of the activities we do around bedtime and try to help ourselves get the best sleep we can.

Preya Patel is a family medicine resident at Jefferson Health Northeast.